When it comes to owning a pet lizard, leopard geckos are a popular choice due to their low-maintenance needs.
However, while they might not need constant attention, there is one aspect of their care that is crucial to their health and happiness: their substrate.
The substrate in your gecko’s enclosure not only provides a natural surface for them to walk on, but it also plays a critical role in maintaining a healthy living environment. So, it’s essential to keep their substrate clean and maintained regularly.
This leads us to the question: How often should I change my leopard gecko’s substrate?
It’s a good idea to spot-clean your leopard gecko’s substrate daily and replace their substrate entirely every 3-6 months. This can vary depending on the type of substrate you’re using, the size of the enclosure, and the habits of your gecko. Monitoring the substrate regularly will ensure that your gecko stays healthy and happy.
In this article, we’ll discuss how often you should change your leopard gecko’s substrate. We will also go over what substrate actually is, which types of substrates are the safest to use, and which ones should be avoided.
How Often Should I Change My Leopard Gecko’s Substrate?
Ideally, it’s a good idea to spot-clean your leopard gecko’s substrate daily by removing any feces or uneaten food left behind, and then replacing it entirely every 3-6 months.
However, it also depends on several different factors, including the type of substrate you are using, the size of your gecko’s enclosure, and the habits of your gecko.
The type of substrate you are using plays the biggest part in determining when to change it out. For example, a loose substrate like soil or sand can hold moisture and organic matter, which can lead to the growth of bacteria and mold over time.
On the other hand, a non-absorbent substrate like reptile carpet or slate doesn’t hold moisture, making it easier to clean more frequently.
A paper substrate like paper towels is very absorbent so you’ll want to remove and replace the paper material every 2-3 days, depending on how dirty it gets.
The size of your gecko’s enclosure is another big factor to consider when it comes to substrate changes. If your gecko’s enclosure is small, you may need to change the substrate more frequently whereas if it’s a larger enclosure you may be able to wait longer between substrate changes.
And lastly, your gecko’s habits also play a role in how often you need to change the substrate. For example, if your gecko is a messy eater or has a tendency to defecate in one particular area of the enclosure, you may need to change the substrate more frequently in that spot.
If your gecko likes to dig or burrow, it may disturb the substrate more than a gecko that prefers to stay on the surface. In either of these cases, you’ll want to replace the substrate more often to ensure that it stays sanitary and dry.
Following these recommendations will help to keep your leopard gecko’s enclosure clean and free from bacteria that can pose a health risk to your gecko.
How Often Should I Change My Leopard Gecko’s Sand?
Sand is one of the most commonly used substrates for leopard geckos, but also one of the most controversial substrates in leopard gecko communities.
While it may look nice and natural in your gecko’s enclosure, many reptile enthusiasts believe it can actually be quite dangerous for your pet.
Sand can cause impaction, which is when your gecko accidentally ingests the substrate and it becomes lodged in its digestive system.
This can particularly be a risk among juveniles or sick leopard geckos that are unable to hunt properly and can be fatal if not treated promptly.
However, there are some keepers who believe sand is the most naturalistic substrate to use, especially when using natural dune sand or fine quartz desert sand mixed with excavator clay.
After all, leopard geckos do live in arid desert areas where sand is a part of their natural environment.
So, if you decide to use a sand substrate, it’s recommended to change it out completely every 3-6 months, just like you would with a soil mixture.
What Types Of Substrate Are Safe To Use?
Choosing the right substrate for your gecko is essential for its health and well-being. However, not all types of substrates are created equal. Some are better than others and have different properties that need to be taken into account.
When considering the right substrate to use, keep in mind the age and size of your gecko, as well as the space in their enclosure, their habits, and their individual needs.
Here are some substrates that are considered safe and suitable for leopard geckos:
A bioactive enclosure is a self-sustaining ecosystem that mimics the natural environment of your pet. The substrate, typically a mixture of organic materials like soil and sand, is one of the key components, providing a foundation for plants and other living organisms to thrive.
If you’re not sure what a bioactive setup looks like you can check out this video:
Setting up a bioactive enclosure requires careful planning and continued maintenance to ensure the ecosystem remains balanced and healthy. However, many leopard gecko owners find that the benefits of a bioactive enclosure are well worth the extra effort to maintain it.
DIY Soil Mixture
A “Do It Yourself” soil mixture of 40% organic topsoil + 40% sand + 20% excavator clay is a great way to create a substrate similar to that in a leopard gecko’s natural environment.
Mix it up well, soak the mixture until it becomes muddy, and then pack it firmly into the bottom of the enclosure. Once it dries, it will form a substrate similar to your gecko’s natural environment that will allow them to dig and form burrows.
Pre-Packaged Reptile Bedding
Some pre-packaged substrates are safe to use for leopard geckos, like mixtures of desert sand or organic soil and clay.
Non-Toxic Shelf Liner
Shelf liner doesn’t provide as natural of an appearance as other substrates, but it has a unique texture that makes for good gripping and is easy to clean and disinfect.
Reptile carpet is a synthetic substrate that is made specifically for reptiles. It’s a good option if you want a substrate that is easy to clean and can be reused multiple times.
Stone, Slate, Or Tile
These natural materials are hard and flat, providing a stable and aesthetically pleasing surface for your leopard gecko to walk on, climb, or hide under.
They also retain heat well, creating a warm basking spot for your gecko, and are relatively non-porous which makes them easy to clean.
Paper Towels Or Newspaper
Paper materials like paper towels or newspapers are safe and non-abrasive substrate options. They’re inexpensive, easy to clean, and can be changed out frequently.
While they may not look as natural as some of the other substrates, paper materials are a good choice if you are on a budget or just starting out with your gecko.
What Types Of Substrate Should Be Avoided?
As you can see there are plenty of safe substrate options for your beloved leopard gecko, so let’s take a look at some of the less safe options like sand, unless we’re talking about fine quartz sand or natural dune sand, then you should definitely avoid sand because it can cause impaction or injury to your gecko.
Coconut fiber, wood chips, and shavings are also considered generally unsafe for the same reasons, as well as crushed walnut shells, moss, and sand mats.
There you have it! Getting the hang of how often to change your leopard gecko’s substrate may seem a bit tricky at first, but with some basic knowledge and observation, it won’t be so overwhelming.
Just remember to choose a substrate that is safe and appropriate for your gecko, and to consider the factors that may affect how often you need to change it. A clean and healthy environment is crucial for your gecko’s well-being, so make sure to spot-clean and do some occasional deep cleaning when necessary.
By sticking to these guidelines, you can be sure that your leopard gecko is living in a happy and healthy environment that will allow them to thrive for years to come!